Throughout October, social video feeds, newspapers, and billboards were padded with advertisements from the UK government all about its upcoming Brexit deal.
The government urged Britain, Europe, and their citizens to “get ready for Brexit” on October 31. Some video tweets even featured a calendar countdown for the upcoming Brexit deal:
— Cabinet Office (@cabinetofficeuk) October 8, 2019
The UK government’s marketing campaign cost a reported $128.8M (£100M) in a single quarter, making it the biggest (and possibly most expensive) publicly-funded campaign since World War II.
Well, October 31 has come and gone with no Brexit deal and no plan. The only surety: this would-be event will dominate the public’s imagination for a long time to come.
So how do brands leverage a relevant, albeit controversial issue like Brexit in their campaigns? And is it actually worth the risk?
Of course it is, especially if you look to past data for insights on what resonates. With all this Brextra time comes an opportunity for brands. The gutsy ones, that is!
Brexit-themed videos (on both sides of the political debate) consistently cull high views and engagements. Brands who have already entered the supercharged conversation, from Irish betting organization Paddy Power and airline Virgin Atlantic, to Ancestry and HSBC Bank, are standing out on social video feeds.
Clearly, the data favors the bold and opens up a world of possibilities. Read on for a look at how brands have embraced the Brexit deal bedlam. Plus, we’ll offer key takeaways for brands and publishers looking to establish relevant and timely video content!
Irish Bookmaker Paddy Power Opens the Brexit Bunker
Paddy Power, an Ireland-based online gambling portal, stars former football pro Eric Cantona in a handful of its recent Brexit vote parody videos.
The Brexit Bunker comedy series has the feel of a survivalist webinar. Think: easy tips to survive total Brexit annihilation. And boy, does it resonate with the brand’s core audience (92% male and primarily Gen Z)!
In The Brexit Bunker (1.1M views on YouTube), Cantona offers viewers refugee status on a cruise-type ship stationed deep in the English channel. In this marine wonderland, news is censored (no B-word allowed!) and karaoke is the go-to pastime (“It’s the end of Eur-ope as we know it!”).
The video plays on the utter confusion that the Brexit deal has generated for all sides of the political debate. It ends inviting viewers to tweet about why they should be chosen for the bunker. The brand later presented the winners enjoying the bunker-cum-spa date.
Additionally, in the multi-part Brexit Survival Guide (1.3M Twitter views), Cantona offers lessons of a more practical sort, like how to harvest your “merde” (yes, French for poop) to feed the electricity grid in a post-Brexit world.
Cantona also directs his prescient lessons to greater Europe, like in part three where he prepares footballers for the cross-cultural experience of a new Brexit by teaching them common, albeit hilarious, English phrases.
Takeaway: Smart Parody Cuts Through Brexit Vote Controversy
Paddy Power wisely turned its campaign into both satirical entertainment and an engagement-generating competition.
After all, their customers are gamblers. Literally. And parody activates them.
Paddy Power’s social feeds are filled with positive responses from “this is brilliant” to “hilarious.” The campaign has been lauded for offering a refreshing break from the mayhem, for both the pro-leave and the pro-remain set.
Paddy Power had the data on its side. A simple Tubular video search for all Brexit video content to date shows as much. The top five most-viewed Brexit deal videos ever (out of a whopping 169K videos) are all satire.
The top two most-watched (and engaged) videos hail from UK media publisher UNILAD. Both play on Brexit confusion and the new world order Europe is sparring with.
In first place is Irish guys trying to understand Brexit (28.8M views and 577K engagements on Facebook). It’s followed by “Brexit Explained in Relationship Form” (19.9M views and 517K engagements on Facebook).
Brands working to cut through the noise should take this data to heart. Younger UK viewers are hungry for a comedic break. When the going gets tough, laugh.
Gen Zers and millennials were raised on hearty servings of news parody. When done well, this has massive engagement potential. Parody content resonates especially well when brands combine cultural references to plump up their satire.
Consider another recent Brexit vote campaign (this one with a more targeted political leaning) pumped out by the British pro-EU advocacy group Our Future Our Choice. This video ad compared a post-Brexit UK to the disastrous Fyre Festival (if you haven’t seen the Fyre Festival documentaries on Netflix or Hulu, do so ASAP!).
Whether you applaud the ad or are completely outraged, the video’s strategy is clear. A surefire way to stamp your relevance is to serve as a Lego piece between two trending cultural topics.
Virgin Atlantic Pulls Out The Brexit Deal Calculator
Virgin Atlantic pivoted away from UK audiences to target American consumers. The brand’s ad features a wide-eyed American traveler in a British pub.
The message: the Brexit vote has made the pound super weak compared to the dollar. Now is the time for that dream UK vacation.
Want to try bonafide fish and chips? “Was $7, now only $5. Bargain,” the British narrator said. The video directs viewers to the Brexit calculator (aka Virgin Atlantic’s website) where they can book their trip.
Takeaway: Keep on the Sunny Side of Life
This is a perfect example of lotus-flower marketing, growing something beautiful out of political mud (for American viewers, at least.) It’s a positive spin for a targeted audience.
Amid all the Brexit deal uncertainty, UK marketers have reduced their overall ad budgets in the third quarter of 2019. Virgin Atlantic, on the other hand, is exploring potential market growth and targeting its advertising strategy accordingly.
When one door closes another… okay, okay. But the takeaway is clear: find your foothold in a manic market and use social video to celebrate it.
This could take on varied forms, so long as there is an element of reassurance and vibrance in your messaging. Consider London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s recent video campaign London is open, which celebrates the city’s diversity and spirit during an ambiguous time.
To the one million EU citizens who have made our city your home: you are Londoners, you make a huge contribution and you are welcome here. Whatever the outcome of Brexit – that will never change. #LondonIsOpen pic.twitter.com/ZRx9uOR78F
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 25, 2019
“Whatever the outcome of Brexit – that will never change,” the video’s caption states.
Ancestry Creates a Musical for Its Brexit Vote Clip
Ancestry, a genealogy company, also waxed positive with its Brexit social video singalong set to “Together Forever” by Rick Astley.
“Together Forever” (703K YouTube views) stars a mix of Europeans embracing their daily routine from Germans to Swedes. The video ends with a unifying truth. Come what may, “the average British person’s DNA is 60% European.”
HSBC Bank Tells UK Citizens: ‘We Are Not an Island’
“We live on a wonderful lump of land in the middle of the sea. But we are not an island,” said comedian Richard Ayoade in a video ad from UK-based HSBC Bank (4.3M views on Twitter).
— HSBC UK (@HSBC_UK) January 1, 2018
The video is a tribute to the UK’s cultural melting pot, replete with machines spitting out coffee from South America, people putting together Swedish furniture, kids watching American movies on Korean tablets, and crowds indulging in Indian food. There’s even a doggie parade, starring pups from across the globe.
The ad was released in the UK earlier this year, as the region faced the tumult of a Brexit deal or no-deal. Considering the timing, it appears to be a direct commentary on the political climate.
This lead some pro-remain viewers to praise the ad: “Honestly, such a great ad and great timing for Brits to see something like this,” one viewer commented. Others chastised it for being anti-Brexit amid reports that the bank is moving several of its offices out of London in response to Brexit uncertainty.
In response to the blowback, HSBC told the BBC the campaign is “not about Brexit.” The ad is positioned as part of the bank’s global ‘Together We Thrive’ marketing campaign.
JWT, the agency which spearheaded the campaign, said the ad reminds people that they are global citizens “whatever the political climate.”
Takeaway: If in Doubt, Keep One Foot Out
HSBC’s campaign is an example of a brand reflecting on the cultural zeitgeist, all the while working to maintain a layer of distance from the political controversy. This one foot in, one foot out approach is tricky to perfect in this age of social media sharing.
All told, HSBC’s campaign hit a high-C on social. Some were enraged, others delighted. This led to significant secondary social coverage from multiple influencers and media publishers, keeping the brand at the tip of tongues.
Was this good for the brand’s business or bad? That depends entirely on the target audience. For brands looking to make a high-risk statement, the key is to use viewer data to predict who will reply positively to the messaging. If this matches your desired consumer base, then you’re golden.
Consider Nike, an apparel brand known for high-risk advertising. Its controversial “Dream Crazy” ad, starring former footballer Colin Kaepernick, re-ignited a longstanding debate about patriotism in a politically-divided America.
There was backlash. Lots of it. But Nike took the risk, assuming the video would resonate with its primary customers, who tend to be politically progressive and young. Spoiler alert: it did.
In Sum, Is Brexit-Themed Content a Boost or a Bust?
It’s a boost, of course, if you have data on your side! Time and again, consumer studies urge brands to take a strong and transparent stance on ethical issues (from inclusivity and animal welfare to climate change).
Brands that capture this tone and integrity win out with younger consumers in data-land, consistently garnering high views and engagements. No better way to open the hearts and pocketbooks of millennials and Gen Zers.
It particularly resonates with luxury consumers, as outlined in our two-parter on high-end apparel brands.
That said, if you’re going to dive into relevance marketing (offering sharp commentary on global affairs), be smart about it. When it comes to the Brexit fray, the data takeaway is clear: address it head-on. But be funny about it.
Laughter, after all, is the optimal medicine for the mania of modern life.
Wondering what else is resonating with European citizens?